Rev. George Miller
Oct 2, 2016
“When human rights are perverted…does the Lord not see it?”
Last March, Eden Seminary hosted a gathering called “Forward from Ferguson: Prophetic & Pastoral Visions.”
I attended that gathering and the most memorable moment was when guest lecturer Gregory Ellison came out from behind the pulpit, walked throughout the sanctuary and silently…
…looked at all the people present, nodding his head and making small gestures of acknowledgment.
After what felt like 5 minutes he stood in front of everyone and said “It is good to see you.”
He then spoke about what it is like not to be seen. To be a young black man in society and to feel like people do not see you.
To be a homeless person and to feel as though people do not see you.
To be an elderly person in a nursing home and to feel like people do not see you.
According to Mr. Ellison, when you go a long time feeling unseen, you develop a series of emotions- insecurity, sadness, and anger.
When people’s blindness to you causes them to mistreat you, it can develop into what he labeled “impotent rage.”
Impotent rage is when you have been made to feel so helpless, so silenced, so invisible, that all this anger bubbles up and eventually erupts.
In other words, look at the riots that recently took place in South Carolina regarding the shooting of yet another black man.
For decades, actually centuries, there have been issues about the way authorities have treated people of color, people on the fringe of society, and people from another land.
Back in February Beyonce tried to address the issues of police-related shootings through song, dance, and video.
Instead of people listening to what she had to say, and trying to see as she saw, they became outraged, condemned her and threatened boycotts.
Months later on the BET awards, actor Jesse Williams addressed the issue with an eloquent, impassioned speech.
Instead of people listening to what he had to say, and trying to see as he saw, talk shows went into a frenzy and people demanded he be fired from his television show.
Footballer Colin Kaepernick peacefully addressed the issue by doing nothing- he sat during the National Anthem to bring people’s attention to social injustices.
Instead of people trying understand what he was saying, and to see as he saw, he was immediately judged, the recipient of hateful comments, and called to leave the country.
So, in South Carolina when yet another black man, when another mother’s son was shot, people responded with impotent rage.
Music didn’t get the message out. Speeches didn’t get the message out. Sitting didn’t get the message out.
So with nothing left, people took to the streets, protesting, rioting, shooting and looting.
And still- we have yet to hear that what they are trying so hard to say- that human rights are being perverted and can we not see it.
Let’s go back 47 years, to New York City. An establishment known as Stonewall, a place frequented by the LGBT community.
A time in which being so was a crime.
It was not unusual for the cops to come in and do a raid, usually once a month. Lights would be turned on, patrons lined up, IDs checked.
If men were dressed as women they were arrested; if women did not have on 3 identifiable pieces of feminine attire they were arrested.
Names would be printed in the papers, families humiliated, people lost their jobs.
At 1:20 am on a Saturday night in June 1969, the authorities came once again. 205 people were present. Some began to run away, but the cops barred the doors.
Tired of the injustice and humiliation, something snapped. Impotent rage kicked in.
Patrons refused to be arrested. People refused to show their Ids.
It is reported that some of the cops began to assault some of the women, while others pushed and kicked customers outside.
A bystander began to sing “We Shall Overcome”. Someone was shoved.
Soon little things like pennies were being thrown. Then beer bottles. Then bricks from a nearby construction sight.
Impotent rage filled the street as officers barricades themselves inside the bar while the crowd grew in size.
Garbage cans, rocks, a parking meter- all used as expressions of rage and anger.
Nights later thousands gathered to show their support for the LGBT community.
As a result of that night, the Gay Rights Movement began, with the institution of community organizations, Pride Parades, and nearly 50 years later we see the result with marriage equality becoming law and the chance for people like me to adopt.
“When human rights are perverted does the Lord not see it?”
Let’s go further back. Boston, 1773, at a congregational church known as the Old South Meeting House, which is part of the UCC.
A group of white men meet, filled with impotent rage.
These colonists are angry because they object to the Tea Act that’s been passed by British Parliament. They feel it violates their rights to “No taxation without representation.”
These colonists believe it is unfair that they can only import their tea from Great Britain. They are offended by the extremely high tea tax that at one point was as high as 25%.
These men hear that seven ships carrying 2,000 chests of tea are coming their way to the colonies.
They realize they have had it with the way the British have treated them. They hate how they are being over taxed.
Since England will neither listen nor see them, they do something that gets their message across very clear-
They protest. Thousands of people arrive; 7,000 people surround the Meeting House.
With ships in the Boston Harbor, people pour out of the church. Up to 130 men, some dressed in Mohawk costumes, board the tea-bearing boats.
Over the course of 3 hours they dump 90,000 pounds of tea into the water, costing up to $1.7 million dollars in today’s money
Talk about an act of impotent rage, in which those who felt helpless forced others to see them.
As Americans we view these men as heroes.
But the British were aghast, calling this destruction of private property, viewing the colonists as hooligans, riff raff, trash.
Britain punished the colonies, shutting down the port, implementing harsher laws that became known as the Intolerable Acts.
When human rights are violated does the Lord not see it?
Throughout history we see episodes of impotent rage.
Whenever people deemed as less than, savages, wormwood, gall, and hopeless are ignored, abused, arrested and told to shut up and take it, there is likely going to be some kind of response.
Throughout history we see people who have been bearing the yoke of hate, of those whose mouths have been made to taste the dust of the ground, and of those whose cheeks have been hit by the smiter.
They are left to wonder- does the Lord not see it, does the Lord not care?
And in many circumstances it can appear as if the answer is “No…no the Lord does not see it, the Lord does not care.”
But then a sliver of hope can come in by the act of remembering; hope can come from the stories and narratives that are stored in our soul.
Hope can come from the recalling of scripture and found in our Holy Text.
Hope comes from the ways in which the Bible reminds us that yes- God does see, yes- God does care, and yes- God does act.
God saw the suffering of the slaves in Egypt, God heard their pleas for help and God delivered them.
God saw the Samaritan woman as her jars of oil and grain nearly run out, and God made sure both of them never went bare.
God saw the cries and suffering of Jesus on the cross, and God responded by resurrecting him on the 3rd day.
We recall these stories; we remember that God saw, God heard, and God acted.
In these narrative truths comes hope.
Hope is like impotent rage in that it comes from the same place- it is born out of pain.
Hope and impotent rage are both expressions of profound yearning rooted in hurt.
Hope and impotent rage come from wounded insides and scarred psyches.
And when we have hope, we are able to hope with God.
Hope that things can change.
Hope that things can get better.
Hope that although things are not like they were, and they are not as they should be, in Christ and by the Holy Spirit, things are still becoming.
Hope says things are still happening.
Hope says that possibilities are still unfolding.
Hope says that New Beginnings lay just beyond the horizon.
Hope- the kind that comes from remembering and recalling that if God has done it before, God can do it again.
Hope that says the very worst of human kind pales when compared to the very best that God has to offer.
Hope that says as long as we have breathe, there is always the chance for a grander tomorrow.
Hope manifests itself into acts of life and victory that defy the odds, defy the -isms, and defy those who say “No you can’t.”
Hope is the weed that grows out of the concrete sidewalk.
Hope is the budget that believes great things will transpire.
Hope is the breaking of bread and pouring of wine during your last meal.
Hope is a confidence born out of trust in God that says if waters can part, if jars can stay full, if the dead can rise, then God’s steadfast love can see us through.
Hope is not superficial. Hope is not naïve. Nor does hope in God mean that we expect God will do it alone.
But in hope we trust that God will work through history, work through creation, work through the people.
That God will use us to speak, to act, to step, to rise, to march, to cross over, to give, to share, to welcome, to love, to point out.
Hope asks that we see.
God asks us to see as things really are, and God asks that we act accordingly, to do what is right.
That we see injustice and act justly.
That we see meanness and act kindly.
That we see hubris and act humbly.
“When human rights are perverted…does the Lord not see it?”
I say the answer is yes. And in that answer I believe there is hope.
And in that hope comes strength.
When there is hope and when there is strength, there is the ability to believe in and to face tomorrow.
When there is hope, instead of impotent rage, there can be infinite glory.
Amen and amen.